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QCQ #1

“Scar” as a Contemporary Monster

After reading and studying Jeffrey Cohen’s essay, “Monster Culture (Seven Theses),” what classifies a being as monstrous is clearer to me. This essay discusses the parameters that make up a 21st-century monster, but also determines what readers can understand about the cultural moment the monster emerges from. When reading this text, I was able to connect a few of Cohen’s ideas, or theses, to a contemporary monster found in the film, The Lion King. “Scar,” a lion that serves as the villian in this film, fits well within the categories of a 21st-century monster. The Lion King features a story about Simba, a young lion, and his adventure as he attempts to replace his father, Mufasa, on the throne. Scar, Mufasa’s brother, was supposed to be next for the throne, but this is interrupted when Simba is born. Scar wreaks havoc by trying to prevent this from happening in a villainous way. The way in which Scar is presented within this film reveals a lot about our culture and the way in which we perceive or define monsters.

Cohen’s first thesis, “The Monster’s Body Is a Cultural Body,” explains that quite often, “the monster signifies something other than itself” (Cohen, 4). Within this film, Scar signifies control and dictation of those below him. He rallies his group, the hyenas, to kill Simba and Mufasa in an attempt to gain more power (take over the throne). This can be linked to cultural moments of the past in which a ruler attempted to take the throne through violent and unjust ways; for example, Hitler rallying the Nazis to kill the Jews.

When looking at Cohen’s fourth thesis, “The Monster Dwells at the Gates of Difference,” Scar fits well within this category of difference through race and physical deformity. As for his physical deformity, Scar receives his name due to the visible scar he has over his eye. This deformity represents the idea found within this thesis that, “the monster is an incorporation of the Outside…but for the most part monstrous difference tends to be cultural, political, racial, economic, sexual” (7). The fact that Scar’s physical difference is tied to his identity reveals that our culture has become infatuated with the idea that physical deformity and appearing “outside” of the norm can be classified as monstrous. Similarly, it is not a coincidence that Scar’s fur appears darker and less attractive compared to other characters. In this thesis, race has proven to be a large “catalyst to the creation of monsters” (10) due to the link it has to sinfulness; myths about Ethiopians connected their dark skin to hell and demonic presence. These ideas prompt me to wonder, what is the significance of physical deformity and race acting as monstrous criteria? What does this reveal about the 21st-century world we live in? 

Finally, I have found that Scar’s character fits well within Cohen’s fifth thesis, “The Monster Polices the Borders of the Possible.” This thesis references the idea that “the monster stands as a warning against exploration of its uncertain demesnes” (12). Scar, like other contemporary monsters, represents the warning or the signal that these beings live a life of isolation for a reason; curiosity is often punished. Similarly, Scar’s anger towards Mufasa and Simba is reflected through his isolation from their society. But, this thesis explains the problem with monsters living in isolation, “This dissociation from the community leads to a rugged individualism that in Homeric terms can only be horrifying” (14). When Scar distances himself in his cave, he develops a way of life without tradition or custom and finds that to be very different from the other animals. Consequently, this fuels his monstrosity. 

The ideas presented in Cohen’s, “Monster Culture (Seven Theses),” discuss 21st-century monstrosity as a means to discover our cultural values. Through reading and dissecting Cohen’s theses, I was able to place the character of Scar as a contemporary monster. 

1/27/20

QCQ #2 Frankenstein

“Increase of knowledge only discovered to me more clearly what a wretched outcast I was. I cherished hope, it is true; but it vanished, when I beheld my person reflected in water, or my shadow in the moonshine, even as that frail image and that inconstant shade” (117). 

Comment: While this quote appears earlier in our selected chapters to read, I felt that it is important to discuss when referring to the overall theme of this novel. This quote is referencing the thoughts that the creature has about itself when it tells its story. The creature has recently been abandoned and has lived its life observing a small family in their home. Therefore, the creature must learn all of its foundational knowledge by itself, specifically through the things around it. The creature feels that as it learns more about the world and itself, it cannot help but feel disgusted and ashamed. I believe this quote is hinting at the notion that with knowledge comes understanding; for the creature, this means that it is forced to reflect more on its physical appearance and compare it to that of others around it. This may be one of the central themes of the novel: fully acknowledging and learning about the world around you will subsequently reveal the truth about who you are (for the creature, it is its ugliness). How does one combat this? By forcing oneself to fit in and adjust to the world around them? Or by creating a being, for example, to share their ugliness?

Question(s): What is the significance of the creature defining itself as ugly, solely based on the way in which it has been able to physically observe itself? Does the creature believe that it is internally beautiful?

2/3/20

QCQ #3 Jane Eyre 

Chapters 1-12

“A great deal: you are good to those who are good to you. It is all I ever desire to be. If people were always kind and obedient to those who are cruel and unjust, the wicked people would have it all their own way: they would never feel afraid, and so they would never alter, but would grow worse and worse. When we are struck at without a reason, we should strike back again very hard; I am sure we should – so hard as to teach the person who struck us to never do it again” (119).

Comment: When this quote appears in the text, Jane is speaking to Helen about the way in which she views treating people that dislike or hurt her. Helen’s outlook and the Christian outlook are much different from the way in which Jane feels. This exemplifies Jane’s uncivilized way of thinking based on the sole experience she has had in her life with the Reeds; the way in which she processes negative situations is entirely based on the way it makes her feel. In other words, her actions are strongly influenced by her feelings. In this passage, Jane is arguing that you must treat “wicked people” in the same cruel way that they treat you so that they can learn from it; if we continue to treat the unjust people with kindness, they will not fear us. When viewing this mindset from a developmental standpoint, Jane is reacting in a very narrow-minded way. She is reacting based on what she has seen and been taught; therefore, she has learned that the only way in which she can make those that hurt her feel the way that she feels is to inflict the same amount of pain on them.

It is not until she goes to school that she is introduced to a different way of reacting to cruel people. This happens when she sees the way Helen painlessly responds to being abused by a teacher. As Helen explains, “It is not violence that best overcomes hate – nor vengeance that most certainly heals injury…Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; do good to them that hate you and despitefully use you” (120). Jane cannot grasp this mentality due to the abuse she has suffered from the Reeds and does not understand how she can respect them when they so blatantly disrespected her. I think this excerpt is a turning point in this section of the book. Jane’s views are challenged and she is forced to think about her feelings in a different way. For Jane, I believe this is just the beginning of changing her mindset and learning to view things differently and not as concretely. 

Question(s): Do you think Jane will ever be able to “love Mrs. Reed” or “bless her son John,” and view them in this way? Will it come with time? Do you agree with Helen that this is the correct way to treat those that “curse” you? Does the situation with Jane and the Reeds serve as an exception to this rule?

2/10/20

QCQ #4 Jane Eyre 

Chapters 18-26

“Then my own thoughts worried me. What crime was this, that lived incarnate in this sequestered mansion, and could neither be expelled nor subdued by the owner? – What mystery, that broke out, now in fire and now in blood, at the deadest hours of night? – What creature was it, that, masked in an ordinary woman’s face and shape, uttered the voice, now of a mocking demon, and anon of a carrion-seeking bird of prey?” (292).

Comment: This passage from Chapter 20 presents yet another instance of gothic elements existing within this story. It also references the new character that we meet at the end of volume two, Bertha Mason. However, this passage raises a new thought for me; although Jane is painted as the literary monster in this novel, could Bertha be the monster instead? Or could she AND Jane both be monsters? Jane explicitly refers to Bertha as a “creature” and “demon,” after Mason is savagely attacked by her. This causes me to think that Jane is framing Bertha to be the monster in this text. I can link some of Jane’s language used to describe Bertha to the ideas that Six and Thompson presented in “From Hideous to Hedonist.” Jane defines Bertha as being “masked in an ordinary woman’s face and shape,” but still exhibiting some defining characteristics of being demonic. This causes me to think of Six and Thompson’s argument of inner monstrosity and how it is not always physically visible. Similarly, it is important to recognize that this scare comes at a time when Jane is starting to feel settled and comfortable at Thornfield. It makes me wonder if Bertha is trying to keep Jane “on her toes” and limit her from ever feeling secure. Could this be a motive for monsters?

Question(s): Can a story have two literary monsters? Why or why not? Is the conflict more complicated by the presence of two separate monsters, or does it enhance the plot? 

2/17/20

QCQ #5 Jane Eyre 

Chapters 32-38

Chapter 35 // Jane’s Conversation with St. John

“‘My prayers are heard!’ ejaculated St. John. He pressed his hand firmer on my head, as if he claimed me: he surrounded me with his arm, almost as if he loved me (I say almost – I knew the difference – for I had felt what it was to be loved; but, like him, I had now put love out of the question, and thought only of duty)…” (519).

Chapter 37 // Jane’s Conversation with Rochester

“‘And to bear with my infirmities, Jane: to overlook my deficiencies.’

‘Which are none, sir, to me. I love you better now, when I can really be useful to you, than I did in your state of proud independence, when you disdained every part but that of the giver and protector'” (548).

Comment: These two passages work together to comment on Jane’s ability, or inability, to love. It seems that Jane’s ability to love is somewhat flawed. She must have a purpose or duty when she marries; she cannot act out of pure love. For example, with St. John, she initially refuses marriage to him for the purpose of not loving him and feeling as though she could never be a missionary’s wife. However, once he explains how she could be of help to him in the marriage (knowing that he will never love her), she considers it. Similarly, while she is “in love” with Mr. Rochester, that love alone does not persuade her to accept his proposal. It is not until she realizes that she will be able to nurse him in his bad health, if they marry, that she is convinced. I believe this reveals something about the image she has of herself and the purpose to finds in life. She cannot act from feeling, instead, her actions are driven by purpose. Her childhood with The Reeds may have an effect on this and be the cause of her inability to act out of feeling. In her past, she did not love the family that she was forced into when her parents died; she even rebelled at the thought of loving them. Due to the fact that she was so deterred from loving these people, this could prove why she chooses not to act on a perceived feeling of love when she is faced with marrying Rochester. However, once Rochester reveals a purpose for her in the marriage, where she can perform the role of caring for her “master,” she is able to marry him and further this marriage by her love for him.

Question(s): Is it possible that Jane’s harsh and unstable upbringing is a major reason why she cannot act out of pure love? Has she truly ever experienced love before Mr. Rochester? Jane’s childhood of living with her aunt and cousins can be seen as a toxic and forced “love” or relationship; is it possible that she may never really know what love is or be able to fully love something/someone due to her past?

2/24/20

QCQ #6 Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Pages 31-77

“It is one thing to mortify curiosity, another to conquer it; and it may be doubted if, from that day forth, Utterson desired the society of his surviving friend with the same eagerness. He thought of him kindly; but his thoughts were disquieted and fearful. He went to call indeed; but he was perhaps relieved to be denied admittance; perhaps, in his heart, he preferred to speak with Poole upon the doorstep and surrounded by the air and sounds of the open city, rather than to be admitted into that house of voluntary bondage, and to sit and speak with its inscrutable recluse. Poole had, indeed, no very pleasant news to communicate. The doctor, it appeared, now more than ever confined himself to the cabinet over the laboratory, where he would sometimes even sleep; he was out of spirits, he had grown very silent, he did not read; it seemed as if he had something on his mind. Utterson became so used to the unvarying character of these reports, that he fell off little by little in the frequency of his visits” (57-58).

Comment: This passage from Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde touches on an important theme in the novel: curiosity. Similarly, this is also one of the first times Mr. Utterson questions his friend, Dr. Jekyll’s, character. Mr. Utterson, once so eager to speak to and see Dr. Jekyll, begins to prefer talking to Poole, Dr. Jekyll’s butler, instead. He would rather speak to Poole in a public setting “upon the doorstep and surrounded by the air and sounds of the open city,” than in a confined, private space with Dr. Jekyll. He believes that his good friend has become evil, possibly influenced by the doings of his companion, Mr. Hyde. I see this as a large turning point in the novel; readers see Mr. Utterson start to doubt the character of his friend and begin to see indications of isolation/monstrous activity in both Hyde and Jekyll. 

Question(s): What characteristics of monstrosity do we see in both Mr. Hyde and Dr. Jekyll? While Mr. Hyde’s monstrous tendencies are more clear, what can we “flag” as suspicious in terms of Dr. Jekyll’s behaviors?

3/2/20

QCQ #7 The Picture of Dorian Gray

Pages 41-178

“Suddenly there flashed across his mind what he had said in Basil Hallward’s studio the day the picture had been finished. Yes, he remembered it perfectly. He had uttered a mad wish that he himself might remain young, and the portrait grow old; that his own beauty might be untarnished, and the face on the canvas bear the burden of his passions and his sins; that the painted image might be seared with the lines of suffering and thought, and that he might keep all the delicate bloom and loveliness of his then just conscious boyhood. Surely his wish had not been fulfilled? Such things were impossible. It seemed monstrous even to think of them. And, yet, there was the picture before him, with the touch of cruelty in the mouth. 

Cruelty! Had he been cruel? It was the girl’s fault, not his…She had been shallow and unworthy…He remembered with what callousness he had watched her. Why had he been made like that? Why had such a soul been given to him?” (127).

Comment: This passage comes right as Dorian Gray realizes a change in the portrait that Basil Hallward painted of him. As he is examining the portrait, he notices an alteration in the way his face is portrayed; it is noticeable enough for him to recognize and comment on it. He immediately recalls the wish he had made to Basil for the portrait to do the aging, and for him to remain young and beautiful. He suddenly connects this, although reluctant to do so since it is a monstrous thought, to that wish “coming true.” I see this point as a shift in the novel, as the first element of something possibly supernatural is revealed. Up until this point, I had been trying to connect this novel to the gothic genre it is placed into, and attempting to identify a monster. This is the first indication of something odd or unnatural occurring in the book, and the first mention of something being monstrous, “Such things were impossible. It seemed monstrous even to think of them.” Additionally, the narrator begins to use language to describe Dorian that basically categorizes him as a being created by someone else, “Why had he been made like that? Why had such a soul been given to him?” This causes me to think that the novel is hinting at Dorian being “created” by someone, similar to how a scientist creates the monster.

Question(s): Based on the details given to us in the novel so far, who or what do you see as monstrous? Do you believe this story will prove to be like the others in the genre that have a fixed structure of gothic elements? What is the significance of Wilde waiting until this point in the story to finally reveal a clear element of the supernatural?

3/23/20

QCQ #8 The Beetle

Chapters 1-20

“My condition was one of dual personality, – while physically, I was bound, mentally to a considerable extent, I was free. But this measure of freedom on my mental side made my plight no better. For, among other things, I realized what a ridiculous figure I must be cutting, barefooted and bareheaded, abroad, at such an hour of the night, in such a boisterous breeze, – for I quickly discovered that the wind amounted to something like a gale. Apart from all other considerations, the notion of parading the streets in such a condition filled me with profound disgust. And I do believe that if my tyrannical oppressor had only permitted me to attire myself in my own garments, I should have started with a comparatively light heart on the felonious mission on which he apparently was sending me. I believe, too, that the consciousness of the incongruity of my attire increased my sense of helplessness, and that, had I been dressed as Englishmen are wont to be, who take their walks abroad, he would not have found in me, on that occasion, the facile instrument, which, in fact, he did” (69).

Comment: While this quote takes place pretty early on in the novel and quite early in the assigned chapters for our reading, I thought it was important to include because it works to “set up” the rest of the novel. This quote comes from chapter six, where Robert Holt is narrating his experience that this demonic power has over him. He describes his sense of control as a “dual personality,” in which physically, he is bound to the monster, but he has more freedom mentally. This is clear throughout his narration; we are able to hear the ways in which he is physically forced to do something, but also questions those actions mentally. I related this idea of a “dual personality” to the language used by other authors in the gothic genre. In both Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and The Picture of Dorian Gray, the monsters refer to themselves (or allude to it) as having a double life. This idea of a second, split personality/being seems to be present in most of these monstrous novels. While Robert Holt’s situation is quite different since he is not painted as the monster, but rather, the victim, it seems that this theme still prevails as important to notice within the novel. However, it seems that as the plot of the novel develops, we may also face a monster that has a double life, switching from a human form, to a more grotesque form (a beetle). 

Question(s): Does including characters that describe themselves or appear as a “double form” complicate the novel or enhance it? In other words, do Marsh, Stevenson, and Wilde further their character development when they include these beings as having a “double life,” or do they confuse readers? Is it easier when the monster is more concrete and clear, like Shelley’s creature in Frankenstein?

3/30/20

QCQ #9 The Beetle

Chapters 29-48

“And, here, Mr. Champnell, I wish to point out, and to emphasise the fact, that I am not prepared to positively affirm what portion of my adventures in that extraordinary, and horrible place, was actuality, and what the product of a feverish imagination. Had I been persuaded that all I thought I saw, I really did see, I should have opened my lips long ago, let the consequences to myself have been what they might. But there is the crux. The happenings were of such an incredible character, and my condition was such an abnormal one, – I was never really myself from the first moment to the last – that I have hesitated, and still do hesitate, to assert where, precisely, fiction ended and fact began” (242). 

Comment: This quote comes in chapter 33 of the novel, where Paul Lessingham is describing his experience in Egypt with the “Woman of Song” and her people. He describes this time, as he is cultivated by their supernatural powers, as being absent from his mind; he was unable to control his own thoughts and actions. In this passage, he describes what he saw as almost unimaginable. He is reluctant to speak to Mr. Champnell about these things, due to the fact that he was unsure that what he saw was real. The whole situation presents a type of fogginess, in which he is unclear where “fiction ended and fact began.” This sort of uncertainty and unknown is a type of fear mentioned in the article, “Out of Time: Queer Temporality and Eugenic Monstrosity.” It appears that this novel refers to a fear not only in the absence of time as a worry, but also the impact it has on identity, “The anxiety shown by these characters toward stopped or slowed time is paired with a collapse of identity…Lessingham associates this lost time with a lost self and continuing hesitancy toward self-definition…” (Stuart, 225). In other words, Lessingham not only feared the gap of time in which he was unable to control himself and unable to recall fully, but he also attributes this to a loss of self; he cannot define himself, therefore, he is lost. 

Question(s): In the article, “Conservation of Energy, Individual Agency, and Gothic Terror…” by Anna Maria Jones, she draws on a comment from Herbert Sussman that reveals a common anxiety that “demanded constant self-discipline to control” (68). What is it about this inability to control (whether time or identity) that scares our society (or society back then)? What is the greater fear: absence of time or loss of identity?

QCQ #10 Dracula

Chapters 8-19

“Lucy Westenra, but yet how changed. The sweetness was turned to adamantine, heartless cruelty, and the purity to voluptuous wantonness…When Lucy – I call the thing that was before us Lucy because it bore her shape – saw us she drew back with an angry snarl, such as a cat gives when taken unawares; then her eyes ranged over us. Lucy’s eyes in form and colour; but Lucy’s eyes unclean and full of hell-fire, instead of the pure, gentle orbs we knew…As she looked, her eyes blazed with unholy light, and the face became wreathed with a voluptuous smile. Oh, God, how it made me shudder to see it!” (187-88).

Comment: This quote comes from chapter 16, right as the men see Lucy in her vampire form for the first time. They describe her physical appearance and actions as very different from her normal self. This language reminds me of the theme of duality that we have been so closely discussing, and that I have framed some of my past QCQs on before. Throughout my reading, I have been trying to place who exactly would be considered the monstrous, if it is just one being. The most obvious monster is Dracula, but it seems that from reading this excerpt, one could make a case that Lucy is also a monster in this story. However, one could also make a case that Lucy is a victim. This sort of framework provides several possibilities to discuss duality in terms of Lucy’s character. First, the fact that she exists as both her normal, charming self (described above as having “sweetness” and “purity”), and as her new monstrous form (now described as having “heartless cruelty” and “voluptuous wantonness”). This sort of double form paints Lucy as a clear monster that can shift between a more normal appearance, to this disturbing one, something commonly seen in this genre. It is evident that the speaker here, Dr. Seward, is having trouble categorizing Lucy, as he details the way in which she has drastically changed with her new vampire self, but how he can still see remnants of the original Lucy. Additionally, when deciding whether Lucy is the monster or the victim of the story, we could infer that she is actually both, creating yet another form of duality within the plot (and the character of Lucy herself). 

Question(s): Is Lucy a monster or a victim within this story? Or, is she both? How does this complicate the gothic genre in terms of the “requirements” of being a victim or a monster? In other words, is it even possible, in this genre, to be both a victim and a monster?

4/13/20

5 Comments

  1. cirish1

    Hi Olivia,

    Great Q-C-Q on Jane Eyre for your number 5 entry! I really enjoyed your questions as they are very thought provoking.

  2. pphillips5

    I really liked the way you incorporated both quotes into your 5th QCQ. It was also really thought-provoking to connect her less than ideal upbringing to her ability to love, and it does make sense that the two themes would be intertwined.

  3. pphillips5

    For your 3rd QCQ, I thought that this passage was a great selection. I especially liked the comment about her not realizing there was different way of dealing with cruelty until she actually went out into the real world and interacted with others. However, is Jane’s thinking “uncivilized”, or is it a way a lot of people think today?

  4. nbradeen

    I thought your 7th QCQ was very interesting. I had some of the same questions you did, but the way you worded them made me rethink the answer I had before. The big question is, who is the the monster? But could it also be a what? Do you think I could be the thought of old age instead?

    • Cathrine Frank

      A fear of aging is interesting at individual and cultural scales. Think of it in relation to ideas about progress and decline. When H.G. Wells writes The Time Machine (1899) he imagines the limits of progress: once you’re at the top, the only place to go is down.

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